Utah to prohibit diversity centers on college campuses

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The Utah Capitol building located in Salt Lake City. The Utah Legislature passed the Equal Opportunity Initiatives bill in the Utah State Capitol in the first two weeks of the 2024 General Session. (Lauren Willardson)

Utah became the sixth state to ban diversity and inclusion centers on college campuses after Gov. Cox signed the Equal Opportunity Initiatives bill (HB 261) into law on Jan. 30.

Sen. Keith Grover of Provo called the bill his “burden to shoulder” as the floor sponsor, with Rep. Katy Hall sponsoring the bill from the House of Representatives. 

Sen. Keith Grover of Provo acted as Floor Sponsor for the “Equal Opportunity Initiatives” bill. (Lauren Willardson)

“Diversity, equity, and inclusion are good words, and when they originally were constructed maybe 30 years ago, it was intended to make sure that everyone was included,” Sen. Grover said. “Unfortunately, those programs have demonstrated that they silence certain voices.”

Although the sponsors believe it to be controversial, the debates “had strong representation on both sides from all races and all genders but not in agreeance. It was fascinating,” Sen. Grover said. “That tells me we’re probably striking a balance.”

The main component of the Equal Opportunities Initiatives law will give a framework for universities to create  “student success centers,” where all students can receive the support they need, Sen. Grover said.

The law also prohibits the inclusion of diversity statements in public university acceptance and hiring processes. Gov. Spencer Cox pledged his support for such a movement in his monthly news conference in December 2023, describing diversity statements as “bordering on evil.”

According to Sen. Grover, students currently receiving services or scholarships on the basis of diversity and inclusion will notice no difference. The purpose, he said, is simply to “broaden the umbrella for all at risk students.”

Rep. Hall noted she was surprised when the initial version of this bill she presented last year did not pass, but several university professors reached out to her afterward showing her she was on the right path.

President J. Stewart Adams of the Utah Senate speaks. Adams played a key role in passing the “Equal Opportunity Initiatives” bill. (Lauren Willardson)

The difference this year in passing the bill was the joint effort of individuals in both the House and the Senate like President J. Stewart Adams, Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, Speaker Mike Schultz and Sen. Ann Millner, she said.

“We had a lot of meetings of how can we do this in the Utah way. We really want our communities — all of our communities — to know that we care about them and that they’re important,” Rep. Hall said.

Both Rep. Hall and Sen. Grover expressed confidence that this will be a positive change for all involved. 

“If (students) are worried or stressed, what I say to everyone about any legislation is take the time and read the bill,” Sen. Grover said. 

The law will take effect on July 1.

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